Saving Nepal’s Best for Last

After our stay at the comfortable, but basic, Seti River Camp, it was a complete shock to our senses when we arrived at the Kasara Chitwan Resort.  We were experiencing luxury overload!

image
The reception area

I was expecting a room, not a stand alone suite.  When I opened my door, I entered this private courtyard.  The photo doesn’t do it justice, but I was too focused on enjoying my surroundings to put much energy into a photo shoot.

image.jpeg
Air conditioned bedroom on the left, bathroom with open air shower on the right, and a beautiful courtyard in between.  Those are little ponds on either side of the boardwalk, complete with resident frogs.

After getting settled, we headed out to hunt for  black rhinos.  Success!   We saw several.  My favorite is this shot, because he seemed a bit bored by us gawkers.

image
So what the heck are YOU looking at?

Our mode of transportation during our “safari” was a platform mounted on the elephant’s back.  It was not the most comfortable ride, for us, or probably for the elephant either, but it was a fun experience.

image

We didn’t see any tigers, but the group before us caught sight of one.  After hearing about the elephant’s reaction, I was just as glad that we hadn’t.  There was a whole lot of stomping, bouncing and trumpeting going on!

For me, the best part of our visit was when we were able to interact with the elephants in the water.

The rest of the group had heard all about my nephew Jack, and how much he LOVES elephants, so Jim was gracious enough to take stills with my camera, while Binoy, our wonderful guide, shot video with my iPhone.

image
First trick was getting on
image66
Wait, I thought I was going to be washing–not getting washed!
image
Now I have to get down
image68
Peter, Marilyn and I giving our buddy a nice massage, using smooth stones.

These are such beautiful, intelligent and gentle creatures.  What a privilege to send time with them.

Check out the toenails on her.  Fun fact–elephants sweat through their toenails.

image
Mike, can I keep her?

While at Kasara, I kept thinking about these lines from the song “Camelot”.  “The rain will never fall till after sundown; By 8 the morning clouds must disappear”, because that’s exactly how it worked during our two days there.  In fact, we were extremely lucky during our entire trip.  We couldn’t have asked for better weather–slightly overcast when we were trekking, which is much more comfortable than walking under a hot sun.

The resort has a lovely pool, so I was very glad I’d packed my bathing suit.  Again, no photos.  Sometimes you have to put the camera down and just soak in your surroundings (literally).

It also has a great second story bar overlooking the pool.  I decided to skip the ox cart ride  through the village, and partake in a margarita instead.  That’s what my sisters, hermaña preferida, and cousins would have wanted me to do, and I couldn’t let them down.

Time to fly back to Kathmandu, and another lovely hotel, The Gokarna Forest Resort.

During our Nepal trip, we added three travelers, Ann from Indianapolis, was born in Indonesia.  She and her Turkish husband met in veterinary school.  Karl is a retired navy chaplain who served in Iraq.  He and Eugenia were born in Hong Kong, but have lived in San Diego when they are not traveling the world.  Their fluency in Chinese was much appreciated by all of us when we got to Tibet.

image
Standing, left to right: Marilynn, Marie, Ann, Eugenia, Karl, Peter, Dick.  Me, practicing my squat, an essential skill for the airport rest rooms.  Jim is missing because he is the photographer.

Here are Marie and Dick, enjoying their first class seats.

image

Jim, Peter and Marie will be returning to the USA after our last night together at the Gokarna, while the remaining six of us head off to Tibet.  The farewell dinner is an OAT tradition when the main trip ends, and what a farewell dinner it was!

image
Ann, me, Marilyn, Marie and Eugenia

Yes, we needed help getting dressed, and no, we didn’t get to keep the saris.

Some of the men played dress up too.

image
Karl, Binoy, Jim

It was the perfect ending for three fantastic weeks together.  Little did we know, but the remaining six of us were going to have a very different experience in Tibet.

 

 

 

 

Pokhara

What a fun city!  Unlike Kathmandu, you can actually walk alone along the streets of Pokhara  without fear of never finding your way back to your hotel.

What to do during our three nights there?

Of course there were temples to visit.  This poor rooster seemed to know his minutes were numbered. Yes, Hindus still do animal sacrifices.  But maybe he’ll get lucky and be reincarnated as a cow.

p1150236
When this guy saw my camera, he insisted that I photograph him and the rooster.

The next temple could only be reached by boat.

image
What made this visit special were the sweet boys collecting money for the Red Cross.

“50 rupees, madam?”

“Okay”, and as I’m reaching for my money I hear, “100 rupees, madam?”

“But you said 50”

“Okay madam, 50”.

He had such a sweet smile, I gave him 1,000 rupees, the equivalent of $10.  THAT guaranteed me a photo shoot with the entire group, who then insisted upon taking MY picture.  My sweet negotiator is the one in the middle.

The one in the middle was my salesman
The one in the middle was my salesman

image
Next up, a visit to the Parakhawking Project.  Please do a YouTube search to learn more  about the vulture and hawk rescue project.

Believe  it or not,  this beautiful creature is a vulture, who, if you decide to leap off a mountain, will fly  with you, locating the  updrafts, thereby  guaranteeing you’ll have a spectacular flight..

image

Unfortunately, he was molting, so he has been grounded for the next few months.   What a disappointment– I was SO ready to sign up!  So since parasailing was not an option, what else could I do with my free afternoon?   Oh so many options…how to choose?
Who could resist this menu of services?  Certainly not I!

image

As tempting as it was to come home with dreadlocks, I decided to be a little less adventurous and settled for a manicure. It WAS an interesting experience.  I’d never had my cuticles pushed back with a coin before.    And the choice of polish was greatly simplified when there are only three  colors, all with sparkles.

image

It sorta made me wonder what my hair would have looked like if I’d chosen a dye job.

The  best part was my manicurist dried my nails by waving a magazine back and forth over my fingers.  Again, I thought of my hair…and what might have been.

After a round of shopping, it was clearly time for music.  Initially, we thought the Bollywood Dance Club had potential, until we gave their sign a more thorough inspection.  Let’s put it this way. Although we didn’t go inside to verify, we suspected the club might have fit right in with New York’s pre-Guliani Times Square or Boston’s combat zone.

Instead, we opted for Emon’s Rooftop Cafe.  We ended up being the sole (but enthusiastic) customers here.

image

Sitting on the balcony overlooking the street, sucking down a local beer, we enjoyed a rendition of “I want to hold your hand”, Nepalese style.   It doesn’t get much better than that!

Mr Toad’s Wild Ride

Not even a pedicab ride through Hanoi’s old town could prepare me for the rickshaw tour of Thamel, the tourist section of Kathmandu.  There is no way these photos can capture the experience–the bumpy roads, the breakneck speed, the sounds and smells.  It was quite a ride!  

My view
Eugenia and Karl in front, Peter and Marie close behind
Marilynn and our guide Binoy
My driver–i survived, and am still smiling!

Heavenly Himalayas

It’s a 17 minute flight from Kathmandu to Pokara if the planes are able to take off.  Otherwise, it is a 5 hour drive on bumpy mountain roads.  We were in luck.  After a 45 minute delay, it was clear enough to fly.

We stopped at the Pokhara office to load what we would need for the next three days into the OAT supplied duffels, leaving our big bags behind.  After lunch atop a mountain, we drove for about an hour, then hit the trail, to walk the last three miles to our lodge.

image
Could this be what the OAT description means by “uneven steps”?

As I was walking up and down the mountain trail, I was thinking about my gym buddies at Somerset Hills Y.  Knowing that they would all be in class was the extra motivation that got me to Zumba, AOA, Yoga and Barre— and boy oh boy, were those classes necessary.  Our treks were far more enjoyable because I’d been “training” for the past 6 months.   It also helped that the heavy lifting was done by village women, who carried our bags in baskets on their backs, attached to a strap across their foreheads.

image
That’s our luggage inside those baskets!

After the chaos of Kathmandu, we were so very ready for the beautiful and peacefully remote Gurung Lodge in Annapurna.  And what a fantastic lodge it was.  Our clean, comfortable rooms were stocked with umbrellas, warm hats and gloves, a north face parka, flashlight, and crocs.   The lounge chairs on our front porches were perfect for naps after our hikes through the villages, to the school, the mother’s cooperative, the museum  and the two room health center.

image.jpeg
Okay, no comments about the white legs.  In some parts of the world, pasty white skin is considered quite beautiful.  So there, Sue and Sandy.

During our stay, smoke from wildfires in India caused the sky to cloud up, so we only occasionally got a glimpse of the Annapurna Mountains.  Despite the clouds and mist, the view was still jaw dropping.   It was impossible to capture the magnificence of this mountain range in a photo, although we all tried. As with so much in life, you just had to be there.

image
The view from our cabins

Our lodge had electricity for a few hours every day, just long enough to charge our camera batteries.  Solar power heated the water, so we took our showers in the afternoon.  As for our hair, the only blow dryer in the camp comes courtesy of the afternoon breeze.
Despite a complete lack of so many of the modern conveniences that we take for granted, we had tasty and healthy meals.  I so appreciated how hard the villagers and the lodge staff had to work to ensure that we were well fed and comfortable.

We got a little surprise on our village trek.  When we arrived, we were greeted by this group of women.  It took us a while to realize that ONE of them looked VERY familiar.

image
Can you identify the nurse from San Francisco?

 

image.jpeg
Here’s a clue

Marilynn, our power walker, had arrived far in advance of the rest of our group, so the village ladies decided to dress her up and make her part of the welcoming committee.

image
A flower garland and “Namaste”

It made me feel good to see how our contributions to the OAT Foundation are making life easier forthe communities we visit.   Before OAT donated the machinery, grain was ground by hand.  Not an easy task, as Marie is demonstrating.

image

image

If my iPhone counted  accurately, the walk to the village is the equivalent of 103 flights of stairs ONE WAY!  And we couldn’t get the ladies to carry us in their baskets for the return trip.

But it was worth it, because the scenery was spectacular!

image

image.jpeg

 

 

 

 

 

Three Days in Kathmandu

Kathmandu assaults your senses.  It is dusty, dirty, noisy, chaotic, crowded.  Take a deep breath and you will get a lungful of incense, enough to keep you coughing for a few minutes.

We toured the three major cities of the ancient Malla kingdom: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur.  (That’s what happened when you had three sons–you split up your kingdom so they could each have a place to rule. )

We saw the impact of the earthquake everywhere.  It is heartbreaking  to see that one year later, people are still living in makeshift shelters.

Home for a family
Home for a family
Boudhanath Stupa
Boudhanath Stupa
Timber supporting Kathmandu buildings
Timber supporting Kathmandu buildings
Bhaktapur
Bhaktapur
Rebuilding by hand
Rebuilding by hand

Still, there are parts of the cities that were not damaged, allowing you to experience their grandeur and the beauty.

image
Plaza in Bhaktapur as seen from the balcony of the New Cafe Nuatapola, where we had a delicious lunch
image
The Five Level Temple
The royal family's bathtub
The royal family’s bathtub
Complete with snake sculptures
Complete with snake sculptures

While preparing for this trip, I read about the living goddesses, known as the Kumari.  (The post  “Follow the Yellow Brick Road, Part Two has more information about the goddess.)

After our visit, all of the women in our group felt so sorry for this sad looking little girl, who was chosen when she was three years old.  I couldn’t help but compare her to my happy, active nieces.  Of course, we don’t know what other options were available to her.  Maybe sitting on a “throne” placing tikkas on the foreheads of gawkers was the better alternative.

The Kumari is not allowed to walk
The Kumari is not allowed to walk
Peter is receiving her blessing.
Peter is receiving her blessing.

Despite the hardships they have endured, the Nepali people’s beautiful spirit shines through.

image

image

image

The hawkers are everywhere.  The problem is if you buy from one, you are mobbed by many others.  Still, I couldn’t resist this woman’s sweet  smile, especially after she told me if  I wanted to buy more than one, there would be no problem.

image

Okay, so I bought more than one.  Sisters, cousins, nieces, friends…you know the drill…gifts are coming your way, but you may have to earn them.  There may be a quiz!

This next one was more of a hard sell.  “Madam, blessings for you, blessings for me”, chanted continuously while she walked beside me for the equivalent of five city blocks.

imageOkay, so I got blessed.  I now own the necklace the lady on the right is holding.  I expect those blessings to be coming my way!